On the next night lefthander Denny Neagle, who was acquired in August from the Pittsburgh Pirates for three prospects, would win his second game as a Brave. And on Sunday righthander John Smoltz, the favorite to win the National League Cy Young Award, fittingly would pitch the division-clinching victory to run his record to 23-8.
"If you don't have starting pitching," said Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, "you have nothing."
Refuse to Lose II: A 10-game win streak put the Mariners on the Rangers' tail
Pitching to the Seattle Mariners is like ordering coffee with extra sugar at one of Seattle's ubiquitous coffee shops. You take your lumps and end up feeling buzzed. Strong? Consider the jolt administered to Oakland Athletics righthander Dave Telgheder at the standing-room-only coffee-house known as the Kingdome. This is what happened to four consecutive pitches he threw in the third inning to Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez: home run, home run, strike, home run. Talk about your klatch hitting. "By the time I watched the replay of my home run," said Rodriguez afterward, "Junior had just hit one over the centerfield fence."
Martinez's homer gave Seattle 580 extrabase hits for the season, tying the major league record set by the 1936 New York Yankees. The next hitter, Jay Buhner, who had homered in his previous at bat, flied out to deep centerfield. The 60-year-old record fell when the next batter, Paul Sorrento, blasted another homer. Total damage: five batters, four dingers and a franchise-record 10th straight win for the Mariners, who were hotter than the Java at McDonald's.
Only eight days earlier, on the morning of Sept. 13, Seattle trailed the first-place Texas Rangers in the American League West by eight games with 18 to play. However, after the Mariners swept three games from the Minnesota Twins and four from the Rangers before tacking on two more wins against Oakland, the deficit was cut to one game.
The late-season run was eerily reminiscent of the Mariners' Refuse to Lose campaign at the close of the last season, when they mounted the third-best comeback ever (13 games out with 55 to play) to overtake the California Angels and win the West. Hut even that club was within five games with 18 remaining. Mariner fans have dubbed this September charge Refuse to Lose II—II anybody, anywhere, anytime.
Meanwhile, 73-year-old Bob Dole's plunge off a platform wasn't even the scariest free fall of the week. That calamity belonged to the Rangers. The only team in existence before 1993 never to have played a postseason game relinquished a game off their lead for each of eight losses in nine games. "That matters because the Mariners know they can do it," Texas manager Johnny Oates said of Seattle's edge at crunch time. "It's like making an A on a test, or baking a pie, or running a six-minute mile. Once you've done it, you know you can do it again."
The Rangers appeared downright jittery during the Mariners' four-game sweep at the Kingdome earlier in the week. They came in with the league's best record in games against lefthanded starters but flailed at a steady stream of changeups from well-traveled lefties Jamie Moyer, Terry Mulholland and Sterling Hitchcock. When Seattle righthander Bob Wolcott struggled in the finale, manager Lou Piniella quickly replaced him with another slop-throwing lefty, Tim Davis, who earned the victory.
After the Mariners waxed the A's 12-2 the next night, they repaired to their clubhouse to watch the 10th inning of Texas's game against the California Angels, in Anaheim. Rangers reliever Mike Stanton had two outs, nobody on base and a 5-4 lead. Before you could say Heimlich, the Rangers lost. Two singles and a double did it, with Garret Anderson driving in two runs after Stanton had him 0 and 2. The Seattle clubhouse erupted in cheers.